Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A story that I believe should be told

Because I forgot to tell it earlier, and it was kind of funny, and I don't want to forget it. It happened like a month ago in a Paris subway, and I was dragging home a friend who was really drunk and throwing up. Needless to say, I was a little annoyed, and a little in that frame of mind where I'm saying "Hey, God! Check it out, I'm doing a Good Deed! There better be some good karma in this for me!" which of course makes it insignificant and not really a good deed at all.

So we're going through the subway, right... we have to go about 4 stops, but there's a transfer in between, so we come off one train and this guy has to throw up. We find a trash can, he does his thing. Then a French guy sees us and motions and somehow mimes that he can get us water. I think he said "l'eau." (of course I felt proud of myself for recognizing a French word.) So I don't know what to think, but he's pointing the same way we're going, so I just start walking that way, and he walks with us. My drunk friend is going "Hey Dan, should I trust this guy?" and I'm trying to play it cool, so I kinda don't answer, but eventually I just go "I dunno" and keep walking. Eventually we get to a little water faucet. My friend washes his face off, and the French guy looks very satisfied because HE did a Good Deed. I say "merci!" and we walk away. But he's following us.

Suddenly we turn a corner and I realize: - French guy's friend has joined us, and - nobody else is around at all. And we go to walk away, but French guy stops us and says something that, in my paranoid state of mind, sounded like "Hey hey... let me teach you some karate." And with that, he puts his leg between my friend's legs and goes to do the stage-combat flip. You know, where you kinda grab their arm and toss them over your hip. At this point, I pull him away and go "Non!" so he tries again, and goes "okay, okay, hey hey hey... karate!" as if this would convince me that it's a good idea ("oh, karate! well, go right ahead!"), and I yell repeatedly in progressively louder voices, "NON!" So he backs away and lets us go.

At this point, I was pretty convinced that we were just about to get mugged, and I had saved us both. In retrospect, that's, uh, probably not the case. If they wanted to mug us, they could have, well, mugged us. Either they were just jerking our chain a little bit (in which case they probably got a big kick out of the fact that I was so scared) or they were trying to teach me how to carry him or something (in which case they were probably a little miffed that I was so rude). At any rate, it makes for a good story. At least, I thought so.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Parlez-vous Ski Bum? or, Heidi and Rin Tin Tin do not live in Verbier, or, Ow ow ow ow

First of all, let me say thank you to every person, place, thing, circumstance, happening, and bit of money that allowed me to go skiing not once but twice in the Alps. This is the first year that I've made multiple trips to big mountains, as well as probably my first 10-ski-day year. If everyone were able to achieve their goals and dreams so easily, we would all be pretty lucky.

Pompousness aside, let me give you a short narrative on how those 3 days skiing actually went.

First, Carnival ended Tuesday night. I was sad to see it go. The closing ceremony was really kind of bittersweet. The prince gave a little speech, they sang some sad songs, the Mooswief came down, the oliebollen stands closed up, and that was that. I mean, people still partied all night, but that was sort of that.

Wednesday was train day! And I'm not kidding. Let me trace out my route for you:
Maastricht-Aachen (bus)
Aachen-Koln (train)
Koln-Freiburg (the Aachen-Koln ran late, so we missed the train from Koln-Mannheim. But this train from Koln-Basel was running late, so we got on it. Since it was running late, however, it didn't go all the way to Basel; it stopped in Freiburg.)
Freiburg-Basel SBB (not to be confused with "Basel Bad.")
Basel-Biel (of course we were off schedule, so we were going to go via Morges per the train station people's advice, but then the conductor said we should get off in Biel. Fair enough.)
Martigny-Le Chable (on the "St. Bernard Express")
Le Chable-Verbier (bus)
Total: 9 vehicles, over 12 hours. Anyone who tells you train travel is easy is not correct. Well, that's not true; train travel is easy for certain things. If you're going from big city to big city, it's no problem. But if you're going from small Dutch city to small Swiss city, it's a bit of a trip.

Something about train travel, though: why is route planning hard? When I get off schedule because one train is running 10 minutes late so I miss my next connection, I go and talk to the Train Station People, and they give me a route with all the connections and times mapped out. But a couple times, I've gotten suboptimal routes- like they go an indirect way, or they start an hour in the future, or something. First of all, why don't they have their magic computer out at a terminal somewhere, so I can use it? Second of all, why don't they give me the best route? It can't be an algorithmic problem, because hell, I could make that program. There must be some hidden variables (maybe they're trying to load-balance on their trains, or maybe they're trying to find me the fewest connections instead of the shortest route, or something), but I'd like to know what they are, and how I can just ask for the fastest path.

Okay, so about Verbier. I wasn't so enchanted with it as I was St. Anton. Something about it just seemed more exclusive, less fun, and more resorty. In retrospect, I think it was mostly the prices: 68Sfr for a lift ticket, 45 or something for rentals, and every place except the Bunker was really expensive to sleep. We found a pizza place for about 20 francs each, and a crappy burger joint for 10-15, but other than that, everywhere cost 35-40 euros (edit: whoops, I mean 35-40 francs) for a main dish. Of course, a franc is about 80 cents US, but there's still some sticker-shock there, all the time. It's mostly psychological, I'm sure... those 35 franc meals wouldn't have seemed like so much if they had been 21 euros. All the same, it was enough to make us live subsistence-style, buying bread and peanut butter, stocking up at the free breakfast, etc. I don't think I got the sense that I was in Switzerland, magical Switzerland, land of snow-capped Alps and Toblerone and fondue and watches and neutrality and the good life that everyone else is missing out on. I felt like I was in a ski resort. Which was true.

Speaking of bare-bones living in a rich town, did I mention the Bunker? That's where we stayed. Check out my pictures (link on the right) to see more about it. It was pretty minimal. 30 bunks in a room, concrete floors, etc. But it did have a hot tub and a restaurant, a fun atmosphere, and it cost 25Sfr per night. Graffiti on the walls, etc. Most of the inhabitants were ski bums. I liked it a lot, and I'm glad we didn't stay there any longer.

Speaking of ski bums, let me tell you about my traveling companions:
4 guys who came to Verbier a few days before us and skied for a week; 2 Coloradoans, 1 Aussie, and 1 Pole. The Coloradoans skied like 30-some days a year. One of them raced. Of course they were pretty much Too Cool for School. But they didn't act like it.
2 Indianans, former football players and so on, the kind of guys who think it's funny to buy a Jack and Coke, because they sell it in a can, at 10AM on our first train.
1 economist who liked to start conversations like "To you, what is it that adds value when you buy a product?"
1 girl from Toronto who, first of all, had to have a lime in her beer, and second of all, was afraid that she'd get some disease when she cut said lime on the floor and then put it into her beer, and therefore never drank the rest of said beer.
Guess who I liked traveling with the most? Well, the 2 Indianans, really. Goes to show, I don't know what the hell I like in travel companions. The 4 guys were pretty cool too, but they were pretty much ski bums, and I can't deal with that whole lifestyle.

For those of you who haven't met any, a ski bum is an interesting breed. He/she (although almost always he, although there are a few girls) loves skiing, obviously, and skis as much as possible. Sometimes he gets a job at a ski resort for the winter, just to be there to ski. And here's the paradox: he's usually young and sort of poor. At least he plays up the "poor" angle a lot (by, say, buying bread and eating sandwiches 3 meals a day). But he wears nice ski equipment, has his own skis, and, well, skis so many days per year. You can't do that if you're poor! So, probably, the average ski bum is a guy like me, in or out of college, who decided to spend all his money on the slopes. He also likes to party a lot, and drink, especially beer. Somehow he's able to ski a lot without sleeping a lot. And when he skis, he's pretty amazing, going backcountry a lot and so on, and also spending a lot of time in the terrain park.

So why is that not me? Maybe it's a bit too bohemian, maybe it's a bit too party-oriented. I like my 8 hours of sleep, especially when I'm skiing. Drinking comes later. Clubbing comes last. Especially in ski resort towns, where the ratio of guys to girls is about 10 to 1.

Speaking of the ratio of guys to girls, we met this ridiculous dude. He was staying in the Bunker too, and he asked us if any of us had any fudge. "You know, it's a hair care product." Turns out, he's right. We couldn't help but think it was a code phrase for something. He did tell us about "Le Pub", though, or the "Pub Mont Fort" where we all spent an enjoyable evening. Cool place. A big beer and I had a nice moment together. What does that have to do with the ratio of guys to girls? He made a comment about it, and also referred to some of us as "good looking." He must have been hinting at something.

And, as a final note about skiing: It was not an easy trip. Well, first of all, the Bunker didn't allow for ideal sleep. But besides that: my left ankle was killing me, my whole legs hurt after a day, my boots didn't fit, and I couldn't turn well at all. Snow was icy or hard, visibility was poor on the last day, and to top it all off, I feel like I'm losing my yen for skiing. Or at least my jonesing for skiing. It used to be the one thing I always wanted to do, and now, if you said I could go this weekend, I'm not sure if I would. I think I just need to take a lesson, get my own skis on again, have a couple nice days, go with friends, etc... but all in all, it's another reason the ski bum lifestyle isn't so appealing as it used to be. It's disillusioning. But it's like anything else I guess: after your initial euphoria subsides, there'll be a down period, and eventually, if you really like it, you'll grow to appreciate it again, and then you'll truly enjoy it. My initial euphoria for skiing just so happened to be about 10 years.

But anyway. It's now a few days later, and life is flying by. I should schedule some trips. I should work on my project. Did I tell you about it? It's a robot programming thing: get a robot to go through a maze. Bleargh. But that's life, and people do that sometimes, and maybe the only reason I don't like robots is that I haven't done anything with them, and if that's the case, I am in the right class for sure.

As for trips, I'm adding some more ideas for destinations:
1. Utrecht, or Delft, or somewhere Dutch this weekend. Hopefully something a little bit authentic, at least. (I keep searching for this vague "authenticity", as if some places that I go are somehow not real. I guess what I mean is I want somewhere without souvenir stores and bus tours. But why do I, with my big ol' American coat and camera on my belt, deserve that any more than the next tourist?)
2. Berlin next weekend?
3. Krakow, or Budapest, or Prague, or all three
4. Somewhere in Italy where they have great food (i.e. everywhere, but you know, somewhere particularly great)
5. Somewhere in France where they have great food (i.e. everywhere, but you know, somewhere particularly great)
6. Iceland! I would love to go there.

So the list is getting huge. And I feel like I'm just collecting capital cities, and I'd be better off just getting to know the Netherlands, maybe, or taking a trip to the lesser-known destinations in a particular country.

Or maybe that's just my handful of worrying that I do all the time, and I should stop it right now. (surprise!)

And on the Dutch front, I have been meeting some non-American people, and it's fun! Monday I had my acting class again, which seems full of people who are pretty neat. Tuesday, the ESN (Erasmus Student Network), who puts together a lot of events for us, invited like 80 of us for a typical Dutch dinner, and so of course 3 of us showed up, and we had typical French quiche. The girl who cooked for us, and her housemates, very nice though! They just hung out with us all weekend and talked about whatever, (although The Economist who also happened to be in Verbier tended to steer the conversation towards nonsense about the EU and so on...) fed us great quiche and lots of wine, and acted like there's nothing they'd rather do than hang out with a bunch of naive Americans. And then, I even had a positive club experience, as this bar played pretty good music downstairs. (It didn't hurt that I was with two beautiful ladies, one French and one Greek)

If I write anything more I will get nothing done today. Check my photos if you want more detail. (Please do; some of them are very pretty!) Rock over London, rock on Maastricht, Rauch fruchtensaefte: "Ich brauch mein rauch!"

(Rauch = "smoke", and also the brand name of the fruit juice company. The slogan means something like "I need my Smoke!" which is funny when it's an Austrian Olympic skier telling you that.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Carnaval's almost over...

Hey. I'm not going to post much about things that happen or things that I do here, if there are photos to go along with them, because those will be on the photo site, and if I have to reiterate stuff, I'll get bored and one of the iterations will probably suck. So check out the photos, because there are a bunch of Carnaval now! Also, this little castle that I saw. And more to come, of Carnaval in Koeln (Cologne).

Speaking of Carnaval, it's about over, which means a couple of things:
1. I can get back to eating at least somewhat normal and healthy foods. Although, man, Dutch/European carnival food >> American carnival food. Here are some things that are good:
- waffles
- herrings
- big ol' fried fish sandwiches
- sausages
- oliebollen, which are The Best, and which are fried up fresh and filled with tasty delights. Wow. Donuts usually don't do it for me, considering how they're about the least healthy thing in the world, and if I'm going to indulge, I want to indulge on something awesome. Fresh donuts, on the other hand... man. I think if you go to heaven, you get a lot of these. Or maybe that's just in Fat Heaven.
2. I might have to get back to some sort of responsibility. Like cleaning my room, for example.
3. I'm going to Switzerland tomorrow! It's a long train ride. But it will get me there, and I will ski on Thursday, and that is neat.

And this is unrelated to Carnival, but here's a question: what's the appeal of the typical bar->drink->club cycle? This seems to be the way you are supposed to have an evening. Go to a bar, get drunk (or at least get happy), and go dance in a club. I can understand how drinking is a pleasure. (it's a little less of a pleasure if you're drinking the same beer the whole time) Being in a bar, though, is not usually so good, because you can't even talk, because it's so loud. Then the dance club, the big prize at the end of the tunnel, right, is not even fun! I could understand if you, say, went salsa or swing dancing, or something with a little structure. Maybe if you went to a bocce ball club and played bocce ball. Or listened to jazz and chatted. Or went to a house and played drunk Taboo all night. (or Boggle! Now that would be fun.) But club-dancing, which seems to me like bouncing back and forth to a LOUD hip-hop/techno beat, is not fun. It's boring! You do it for 5 minutes, you've done all there is to do!

Now you will say to me "it's about the ladies; you're not just dancing by yourself, you are surrounded by attractive members of the opposite sex." Right, but so what? I'm not going to go home with someone I met in a club. Look, I'm not a non-verbal communicator here. If I find a girl attractive, I'd much rather talk to her, or play bocce ball or listen to jazz or go salsa dancing or play Boggle with her than press my body against hers, bouncing back and forth to the 4/4 beat of "SNAP YOUR FINGERS!" in the hope that she thinks "wow, I am quite attracted to this slightly-good-looking stranger. We should exchange phone numbers and go through the cliched courtship ritual based on nothing other than his hottt dance moves."

Note that this is unrelated to Carnaval. For the last few nights, just wandering the streets has been entertainment enough for me.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A couple things about this past week that I didn't mention yet:

1. Korfball. This video explains it all, I guess. I looked at the sports that they offered, and Korfball is the only one I hadn't heard of, so I went to their practice. There were about 15 Korfballers there, and they were all suitably confused as to why I would be there. You know, cuz, um, well, you know. Then we started practicing and they'd keep saying things in Dutch and some of the other players would try to interpret for me and it was a little confusing but it mostly worked out. It's a kind of fun sport: like basketball without the dribbling or the backboard, or like team handball except you have a basket instead of a goal. And sometimes they make goofy underhand shots or some nonsense. They seemed like a fun bunch, though.

Note that Korfball is mainly Dutch, but saying that the Dutch like Korfball is like saying that kids like playing with yo-yos: some do, but most think it's dumb. Likewise, saying that the Belgians like Korfball is like saying that blind kids like playing with yo-yos: they're just not very good. And saying that any other country likes Korfball is like saying that kids like playing with manila envelopes: false. There was one guy who made a living off Korfball, but he had to quit because he had to play like 40 hours a week.

2. I rode my bike to a castle the other day. This castle. Okay, so it's not Neuschwanstein, but wow! It was in Belgium; I rode my bike to another country. I love this continent!

3. Carnaval started today/yesterday. I promptly ate so much fried food and drank such a hodgepodge of rather stern drinks that my stomach was killing me all night. God has blessed me with many things; a cast-iron stomach is not among them. I'm also not the smartest guy in the world. But it's very neat! Streets full of revelers = happy me.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Your absurd news moment for the day

Senator hopes to gain clout and support of right-wing American parents by imposing stricter video game ratings

Among the quotes: "It calls for requiring video game rating organizations to play all games "in their entirety" before issuing labels and prohibiting game developers from withholding any "hidden" game content from raters."

1. Video game rating systems are kind of retarded in the first place, although I can see why parents would want them.

As it is, they're obnoxious... mostly harmless games get rated "T" and "M", and come on, video games don't make kids violent.

But say you were a parent and there were no ratings; how would you deal with your kids buying video games? What if they want to buy a game called (to pick a name from Metacritic) "Burnout Revenge"? How about "Blue Dragon"? "Fuzion Frenzy" sounds violent, but it's like Tetris... "Ratchet and Clank" could be slang for something awful, or it could be an arcade game about a couple of goofy looking characters. "Phantasy Star Universe" is (I think) a harmless RPG, but it sounds like a porn site.

So what do you do? Do you investigate each game? Your kid would get tired of that rull quick. Do you just trust your kid to make good decisions? That might be a better answer. But what if your little 8 year old is unlocking sex scenes in Grand Theft Auto? Well, your 8 year old would probably just get bored. But you know what I mean. But here's the reason this bill doesn't make any goddamn sense:

2. Good luck playing a game like World of Warcraft "in its entirety."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Belgium in 36 hours

I had a weekend free (you know, as opposed to all my other weekends here, that are booked full of important meetings) so I took a trip to Belgium with a couple other kids I met here, Becky and Camerin. There was a Decemberists concert on Saturday, which Becky was stoked about. I just wanted to see a couple of cool cities. And plus, train travel in Belgium is rull cheap, because they have this "Go Pass", which gives you 10 one-way tickets between any two Belgian cities for 45 euro. (and you can share it) So we just hop a train to the closest spot across the border (it's called "Vise", and it's shady) for EU$3.80, and it's EU$4.50 from there. Good deal.

Brussels was grand. I guess it's the EU headquarters, which means it's always full of politicians. Which also means it's stuffy and boring. But if you're just there for a day, there's plenty to do. Saw the famous Grand Place, and by golly it is grand and it is a place. Saw the Belgian Comic Strip Museum. Ate at this awesome little Congolese (I think) place called "Waka Moon." So much character! Little corner bar, great food (I had Maafe Agneau, which is apparently lamb in peanut sauce, and wow, I'd like to know how to make that.), and great wine for EU$2. I'm starting to really like wine. I think it's just because I feel all grown up when I buy it, like "Thank you for letting me be an actual full-fledged member of society" sort of thing. Plus there are so many kinds, and here, it's all pretty cheap. Call me a Decemberist, but I'd drink wine over beer any day.*

Speaking of the Decemberists, the concert was kind of how I imagined, and maybe a little better, because Colin Meloy was pretty animated, and there was intense audience interaction going on, and I like it when bands talk between songs. Maybe the Crane Wife deserves a listen. And they were pretentious and full of big words, and they did wear hipster clothes, and there was extensive instrumentation, and Colin did drink red wine throughout the show.

*unless it's crummy wine (big Gerrit Betz Jug of Sangria, I'm looking at you) vs. Brugse Zot, the beer from De Halve Maan brewery in Brugge, because damn was that tasty! Might have been my best beer experience here yet. Also, way to find the asterisk. Also, I actually kind of like the big Gerrit Betz Jug of Sangria.

Speaking of Brugge, after a night at the lovely Brussels Royotel (which was perfect in that it was right down the street from the concert, a private room, and EU$25/person) we went there, and it was like the guidebooks said: a tourist attraction but worth it. Very quaint, lots of medieval things (and many modern things too... the retailers have swooped in) but still cool churches, monuments, restaurants, etc. Worth seeing for sure if you're in the neighborhood. Some parts on the way into town I thought could be almost indescribably beautiful in the spring. (but it was winter.)

Hey, I wrote a lot of this synopsis in my photo albums, and there's no use repeating myself. Check them out!

In other news, I went to my first acting class today (with the drama club here... I couldn't be in their show because it's being performed after I leave), and really felt on top of my game. Improv teaches you a lot, maybe about acting, maybe about self-confidence, but whatever it is, it helped.

Have I mentioned how my bike has lights that are POWERED BY MY PEDALING? I just click the little roller into place and the lights turn on when the wheel turns. So cool! I want to ship the bike home (probably costing more than the bike itself) just for that feature. So cool! And all the bikes here have that!

Classes are marching on. I love buying and cooking food. My erwtensoep (pea soup) turned out well; I'll make it when I get back. I also like kwark a lot. And today I bought a jar of pickled herring.

Oh, and one more thing... if people actually like drinking a whole lot, like until they start blacking out, maybe I'm the anomaly. But if not, can we all stop pretending please? I won't think less of you if you're a lightweight. Really. So let's stop the shenanigans and drink sensible amounts. (I guess this is directed only at Americans.)

But other than the fact that I'm not made for a party-heavy culture, I love this place, and things are going pretty well. Thank you for everything, etc.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I'm gonna go ski in the alps again...

in Verbier, Switzerland. I'm staying here. I'm enthusiastic! I guess I actually mean "excited".

Also, I've been doing about no schoolwork. Not the best way to start off the block. One of my classes ("Intelligent Systems") is really "Programming a Robot" in disguise. Not something I would have picked on my own. But I'm willing to give it a try, eh?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Een fiets!

It feels so good to be on a bike again. I got a good used one, for EU$75, from a bike shop. It's steeper than the EU$30-50 that people say you should pay, but it's in pretty good shape. It's probably better than my bike from home. Also, pretty much the only alternative is to buy one from the "junkie", who is a homeless guy who steals bikes and sells them for like EU$10. Much as I'd like to participate in a local custom (bike theft is like the #3 national sport, after football and korfball), I've had a bike stolen, and it kind of sucks a lot, and anyone who steals a bike is pretty much a scummy scummy dude. Kind of like people who honk at cyclists, although nobody does that here, because bikes rule the roads. Rock on.

In other news, I'm going to Brussels and Bruges this weekend. I think I'm going to see a Decemberists concert. I don't even like the Decemberists that much. Plus, well, you know... and also, one of my friends just backed out, which is lame.

So I'm kind of psyched. But kind of annoyed. We'll see how it turns out.

Monday, February 05, 2007


I want to write down this list of places I particularly want to visit so that I don't forget it and so that I can prioritize.

- Switzerland. I'm thinking Verbier or Zermatt. Maybe only one more trip, due to time and money constraints. Maybe go to Geneva for a day on the way or something, to see some non-resort Switzerland.
- Sevilla. Spain has been rising in my mind as a destination, and this seems like the "slightly off the beaten path" Spanish destination. (as opposed to Barcelona and Madrid. Plus, they actually speak Spanish, not Catalan.)
- That said, Barcelona, maybe for this music festival.
- The Black Forest, Germany. Where do you go for that? Maybe Freiburg? Heidelberg?
- Scandinavia. Stockholm? Copenhagen? Kiruna? Reykjavik?

Okay, so there are five trips. Switzerland should be sooner rather than later to have snow, Barcelona would be May 31-June 2 or thereabouts, the Black Forest and Scandinavia should be later rather than sooner to enjoy nice weather, and Sevilla could be anytime, I suppose. (of course, these are not set in stone; all are subject to change due to other plans, changes of mind, and/or bank accounts running right out of moneys.)

Wow, but if I could do all of those, I would be one lucky dude.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Also: by God this comic is fantastic

And not just because it namechecks Pittsburgh. This is why Calvin and Hobbes is the best of all time.

Link for bigger

Amsterdamn, I'm confused

Sorry for the obvious pun.

I'm confused about a lot of things. I will enumerate them:

1. How to get around Amsterdam! I got turned around so many times. If I go back, I might actually take a compass. Nah, I'll probably just get lost a lot again. I don't know why, it's just hard to navigate.

2. If I'm even in the right place. I got a tour of the CS building here- it's just a few rooms in one building, really. Both my classes are being taught by the same professor. It's not a big department- I don't know why I got the impression that it was. Also, none of my classes are even taught in the "problem-based" format that U. Maastricht is known for. So will they be good classes? Will I learn anything useful? Will they give me any insight into what it is that I want to do with my life? And then, second half-semester, I'm basically taking a break. Yeah, five-day weekends are nice, but is it worth it? This is not my biggest concern, because the classes mostly all satisfy requirements, and it's about the same degree of difficulty that I've taken in the past, and you don't study abroad for the classes.

3. This isn't a confusion, but an update on the Amsterdam trip: I've complained about the Paris trip, and this Amsterdam trip was about half the same. The first day, they shuffled all 16 of us through a canal tour, the Anne Frank House, our hotel, and the "Boom Chicago" comedy show. The next day they shuffled all 16 of us through the Heineken Experience and the Rijksmuseum. This was frustrating. Then they let us go, and that was neat. I checked in to the hostel, went to dinner with some folks from our group, then split off and wandered all night. Got back late, got up early, rented a bike, and wandered some more, passing the Waterlooplein, Nieuwmarket, and seeing the Oude Kerk. Tried to meet some friends at the Van Gogh museum, failed, saw the Van Gogh museum, and wandered some more.

My thoughts on the attractions:

Canal tour- meh. "On the left, you see the golden lions on top of this house, which used to belong to Pieter Brooge de Hoog" and so on. I don't like guided tours. That said, the canals are very nice, and maybe my favorite part of the city.

Anne Frank House- more moving than I thought it would be. Still, the house itself is just a few empty rooms, but you do get to see the size of it, and also the feeling of being crammed in these rooms for two years. Eep. And then you see scenes from the concentration camps, and I thought about a week and a half ago when it was cold and I was stumbling home with what turned out to be a stomach bug/fever/etc, and I felt awful, but I knew I would be home in 15 minutes and then I could lay in a warm bed all I wanted, and I thought about how many concentration camp prisoners were sick and cold (without a coat) and hungry besides, and stumbling back maybe to a freezing barracks so they could sleep for a couple hours before they had to get up the next day and work, and by the way there's this whole threat of being killed all the time, and I can't imagine how anyone survived! So, in short, worth a visit if you're in the area.

Boom Chicago- pretty lame comedy show. Half improv, half scripted. Yeah, comedy is hard, as I know firsthand, but there were so many stale jokes (the show was called "Me, Myspace, and iPod" and it ended up being a bunch of jokes about Myspace and iPods, which might have been funny five years ago) and the improv was not even that good. Plus they were Americans, and most of the jokes were about Americans, so it was only culturally interesting for the "this is what Americans think Dutch will find funny, as a parody of America" sort of thing, not "what the Dutch actually find funny" (although, admittedly, any Dutch comedy show would be, well, in Dutch.)

Heineken Experience- stupid fun. It's not even a brewery anymore, but sort of a museum-exhibit of Heineken. Kind of cool to see how they make beer, but then I was at this kiosk and they played a prospective Heineken commercial and asked me what I thought, and I realized I was doing research for them, and I paid for it. But there were some free beers. But it was 11 AM. It's amazing how pumped my friends got for free beers. Look, they're not "free"- you paid for them as part of your admission! But people love paying for something, and then getting something else as a "free bonus" along the way. Someone should use that fact, for good or for evil.

Rijksmuseum- really cool! It's about half Dutch historical artifacts and half Dutch art. Overall, something like 15 rooms, so very manageable. And we got an audio guide headphones set, which is usually annoying, but was kind of neat. They had huge scale models of ships, big old dollhouses owned by rich merchants, silver pieces, and a couple paintings that I even recognized. And the Night Watch! Is it lame to really like that painting? It's kind of like Rembrandt's "Hey Ya" in that he did a lot of other cool stuff, and people even know it, but it's really his one big hit. But it's really cool! Here it is, check it out. If you go to Amsterdam, you should see this museum.

Waterlooplein- a big crap market. You may be familiar if you've been to New York.

Nieuwmarket- a square where they have a food market. I would have been more excited if my state of mind had been better after visiting Waterlooplein.

Oude Kerk ("Old Church")- is a neat church, and a welcome respite after the rest of Amsterdam, and more about that later. The church itself is big, and it looks like only the middle of it is used for the church service, which is interesting. There are also a couple of neat things in it; I don't know why. Find them in my photos!

Van Gogh Museum- also pretty neat, and I managed to get in for free, so that was a good deal. I like how they showed his paintings by the time periods in which he painted them. I think my mom would have appreciated it a lot more than me, or I would have appreciated it more if I went with my mom. Still, some of the paintings were very cool. I was really tired by this point.

Red Light District- right, how could I forget? We walked through there on Thursday night, when we were still all in a clump of 15 people. Never travel anywhere in a group of 15 people. The whole red light scene was pretty surreal- you're on a beautiful canal, and it's nighttime, and there are lighted shops and places, and it could be very nice, except that the shops are all advertising sex shows and other scandalous things, and everyone around you is either skeezy or a tourist, and there are a bunch of windows, with prostitutes boldly displaying themselves and maybe knocking on the window at you. All with red lights and black lights, which would really make for a cool canal scene! Except there are prostitutes boldly displaying themselves and maybe knocking on the window at you.

4. Okay, I'm confused about Amsterdam. How can you have a city that apparently builds its economy on fast food (which was plentiful and much better than American fast food because you can get things like falafels, kebabs, stir-fries, waffles, and herrings on every corner) and yet has a reputation for being one of the coolest cities in Europe? Well, okay, maybe because you can smoke pot on every street corner coffeeshop (and even in the streets, maybe? We did once, and nobody stopped us) or get mushrooms, herbal XTC, or a lot of other soft drugs cheaply and legally. Also you can gamble or get a hooker, if losing money and STD's are your thing. There are a lot of cool squares, like the Leidseplein (billed as Amsterdam's Times Square, and I'd take the Leidseplein any day, despite how over-the-top Times Square is). Neat shops and so on. But I left it feeling like I'd spent a total of maybe 12 hours wandering and not finding anything except more awesome fast food places. Maybe this is Amsterdam's fault, or maybe this is because of my next confusion:

5. What do I want to do when I travel? I don't even know. My old answer would have just been "wander." Walk around for a while, you'll probably see something cool. Or better: wander with a destination. Say I want to see the Rijksmuseum... just walk down a few streets until I make it there. If I don't, no worries. But after finishing this trip with aching feet and a hollow feeling in my stomach, I'm not so sure. Here are some things that are not my goals when I visit a city:
- Party. Honestly, I don't really care about the nightlife in a city that much. If I find myself in a cool bar, neat, but it's not a priority.
- Do drugs. This was not my priority in Amsterdam, and it's illegal in about every other country. If I want to smoke pot or do shrooms, I can do it in Maastricht, and I'll do it when I find good friends.
- Hit up the touristy stuff. The Eiffel Tower is the quintessential example of this. People feel like they have to see it, so they do. I don't.
- Buy souvenirs. Goddamn it, I don't want to buy a souvenir! No! I can remember things by myself, and with pictures. And souvenir shops are the most touristy places there are. Whoever invented the souvenir business is really a shrewd dude, because he made a lot of people buy a lot of crap. By the way, if I don't send you a souvenir, sorry; it's not that I don't care, it's just that I don't think the best way for me to show my appreciation for our relationship is to buy more crap that nobody needs.
- Shop. I buy clothes about never anyway. If I want clothes, I'm not so much of a sartorial gourmet that I need to go to shops in other cities.
- Take tours. No! I do not want a guided tour!

So what do I want to do? Arrg... that's the question. I'd like to get a feel for what life is really like in the city. I don't know if you can do that in a weekend without knowing someone who does live there. Here are some things that I like:
- Cool museums. I don't want to museum-hunt, and hit them all until I check them off my list. More than a couple per city is probably overkill. But there are some cool things in museums, and sometimes it's nice to see them.
- Good food! I want to experience the best of every city. However, this is often expensive. I mean, always expensive.
- Events. Festivals, concerts, whatever- if I go to a city for a reason, that's cool.
- Churches. I've been liking these more recently, and the Oude Kerk sure was a breath of fresh air after the streets and streets of souvenir shops and great fast food.
- Markets. I do like markets. Remember when I freaked out about the Pike's Place Market? Not too much, though: like the Waterlooplein was the end of my rope. I was not in the mood to look at junk anymore.
- Streets of shops and restaurants. And here's the trouble: why do I like cool stores? Because you can buy cool things in them? So I'm as much of a treasure hunter as anyone else, but I just mask it a little bit by not going to touristy shops.

I kind of just want to "be". So when someone says "Do you know Amsterdam?" I can say yes, yes I do know Amsterdam, in every sense; I can tell you where to go and what to see, and if we had a mind-melding link I could give you the feeling that I got when I was there. This is a vague goal. But I guess I just made a list of what I want to do. Hmm. Maybe I'm not so confused.

6. Whom do I want to travel with? Still an issue.

But I'm not confused about this: I am going to a Dutch Restaurant tonight, complete with Dutch Food, and I am excited. Time to go!